One der Leyen: How has EU chief Ursula done in her first year?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 2020
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 2020 Copyright Francisco Seco/AP
By Jack Parrock & Jo Gill
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December 1 marks one year since Ursula von der Leyen took over as European Commission president. We look at how she has fared.


December 1 marks one year of the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen, and it has been a whirlwind of promises, compromises and tough battles.

She started with a promise to overhaul the European Union but that was skewed by the pandemic in a way she wouldn't have then considered.

Her flagship Green Deal was released in December 2019 but she will still need to push programmes like that through European Parliament.

"There's a lot of tough legislating going forward when we move to the, not least to the migration pact, but also the nitty-gritty of the green deal and the digital agenda, And my sense is that that's an area where she needs to improve," Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

Geopolitical Commission

Her promise was for an outward-looking EU - but circumstances haven't made that easy.

"She came in with this label 'geopolitical commission', and in fact her whole business for the last nine months or so has been about values, about standing up for the European values. Or not standing up for European values," explains Shada Islam, director of New Horizons think tank.

Those values have been stretched by Hungary and Poland's fight against rule of law commitments being signed into the EU budget and the €750 billion pot of cash for the coronavirus economic recovery.

Human rights

The headline from September's State of the EU speech was a rallying cry in support of the LGBT+ community.

"Being yourself is not your ideology. It is your identity," von der Leyen said.

However, recent moves in some member states prove the task of recognising the rights of the LGBT+ community may prove a tough one. In 2020, in the Rainbow Maps annually compiled by ILGA-Europe, which assess European countries’ commitment to LGBT+ rights and equality, Poland plummeted from an already weak 28 points achieved in 2014 (its best result to date) to the lowest ranking among all EU countries with just 16 points.


Within the EU Commission HQ, von der Leyen has been accused of keeping a tight reign on her commissioners.

"She comes from the largest member state, was politically very close to Angela Merkel. So I would say that it has meant the commission was more top down driven," says Kirkegaard.

Eye on the future

With a new president coming into the White House, the Commission president is being warned to remember the lessons of the Trump presidency.

"My concern is that Ursula von der Leyen, along with other EU politicians will then once again find the easy comfort zone that is in America's shadow," remarked Islam.

She added that the EU should be taking responsibilities in dealing with 'its neighborhood, in dealing with Africa, in having a rational, good, workable strategy with China.'

It may have been a whirlwind year for von der Leyen but there are still four more to go.

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